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Phil Keoghan

Phil Keoghan

About that "Family edition" — the folks at "The Amazing Race" are really sorry and they promise never to let it happen again.

And, true to their word, TV's best reality/competition show returns to its routes tonight (8 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) — two-person, not four-person teams; lots of international travel, and challenges that are actually challenging.

The talking point they're using at CBS seems to be — we tried something, and it didn't work. Sorry.

Which is believable, because the "family edition" that aired last fall turned off a lot of viewers and lagged in the ratings.

"You know, we tried something," said CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler. "I don't think we were particularly successful with it, but the interesting thing is, sometimes you get criticized for not experimenting with a form. In this case, we did."

Those were comments echoed by "Race" host Phil Keoghan.

"We tried something. I'm really proud that we tried something, because I think if we hadn't tried to change the race, people might have criticized us for not being adventurous and doing something different," he said. "I'm proud of what we managed to pull together, but there is no denying that the race is most successful when it has less faces, more places and teams of two racing around the world," Keoghan said.

Whereas the "family edition" stuck mostly to the continental United States, "Amazing Race 9" takes off immediately. The 11 teams begin in Colorado and quickly make their way to Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Over the course of the competition, the teams will race to five continents, covering 60,000 miles in 29 days. Season 5 covered more than 70,000 miles, but this is "the most miles we've done in the shortest amount of time," Keoghan said. And the compressed shooting schedule "does have a dramatic affect on the teams, because it's obviously more taxing."

"It was definitely tougher on the teams than a lot of the other seasons. And I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that we got the message from people that they wanted an international route, that they wanted the race to go back to the teams of two, that they wanted more exotic, more adventure, that they wanted to push the people more."

And, of course, part of the fun is watching how the teams react to the stress. Before tonight's two-hour season premiere is over, there are already contestants who are stressing out — and contestants who aren't making a particularly good impression on either the people they encounter or viewers.

"With the reaction that we got from the family version, people clearly made a statement that they wanted that international element in the show," Keoghan said. "I think it showed that the places are as much stars in the show as the people themselves. People were missing that exotic element — that fish-out-of-water element where people were completely and utterly dumbfounded as to what to do because of culture shock and language barriers. They missed that. And I think that is a huge hook for us."

While they're always a bit vague about exactly where the race takes the contestants, we do know that, in addition to South America, they're headed for Russia, Japan and somewhere in the Middle East.

"For me, personally, I love to see the teams going to places we never get to see in mainstream media. . . . It's always a big eye-opener for these teams to go to someplace that is just very different from their local community," Keoghan said. "There's one location that we get to in the Middle East where the teams are immersed in a daily task that a lot of the local people have to go through. And it's great to see teams that are used to going down to the 7-Eleven suddenly having to cope with living life in a completely different way."

Whereas "Amazing Race" is going back to the tried and true.

"We're going back to our original form. . . . We know that our audience loves that brand," Tassler said. "We just tried something different, and we're going back to what I think everybody is really looking forward to."

Thank goodness.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com